#ProudLocal: Discovering The Unique Flavor And Artisan Secrets Of Award-Winning 100% Philippine Made Malagos Chocolate
Spoiler alert: Those international chocolates we go gaga for? They’re not real chocolate. They’re candy bars. The chocolate maker of Single Origin Malagos Chocolate from Davao reveals what a real chocolate is, how it’s made, and the complex, unique flavor that it should have—and why the Philippines is poised to become one of the leaders in producing these fine-flavor chocolates.
It all started in 2003 when Charita P. Puentespina started planting cacao trees at the Puentespina Farm, and established Malagos Agri-Ventures Corp. to start producing and exporting single-origin cacao beans. In 2012, they decided to add value to their cacao beans and expand their operations. After all, why keep exporting their cacao beans to other countries to be turned into chocolate, when the Philippines can do it just as well?
Malagos Chocolate Maker Rex with his mom, Charita Puentespina
And just like that, with the help of PUM Netherlands Senior Experts—a volunteer organization dedicated to sharing their expertise with growing countries—Malagos Chocolate was born.
The unique Malagos Chocolate flavor
Filipinos love sweets—sweet spaghetti, sugary drinks, sweet chocolates. That’s why when we came across Malagos, we were pleasantly surprised to find this locally grown and produced chocolate that offers a distinct flavor that we don’t usually taste in regular supermarket chocolates. Malagos Chocolate comes in 65%, 72%, and 85% dark chocolate variants, with that rich cocoa flavor dominating each bite, more bitter than sweet, with fresh and fruity notes lingering after a tinge of astringency.
Malagos Dark Chocolate
Yes, it does sound very complex because it is—and Malagos Chocolate is very special for this reason. The secret behind this complexity lies in the cacao bean itself, which is sourced only from the Malagos area in Davao.
“Single origin means one source only. That’s why the flavor of our cocoa is very distinct. It’s because of the terroir, the microclimate in our area,” Rex Puentespina, chocolate maker and son of Malagos founder Charita, explains about growing their cacao trees. “The land, the sunlight, the rainfall, the soil—all of that influences the flavor of the cacao. That’s what makes it unique and special. If you grow the cacao in Makati, it will taste semento siguro or asphalt! (Laughs) This is why for me, as a chocolate maker, I don’t really intend to follow the chocolate flavors of other countries. I’m comfortable with our own flavor—the Malagos flavor.”
Not many chocolate lovers may know that cacao trees only grow in a specific zone near the equator, which is where top cacao-producing countries like Ghana, Indonesia, and Nigeria can be found. The Philippines is smack in the middle of this cacao-friendly zone. But surprisingly, Filipino farmers are not planting more cacao trees.
Most commercial and artisanal chocolate making is found in the United States and Europe where cacao trees don’t grow. Therefore, the world’s top chocolatiers can only call their chocolates “bean to bar,” because they import cacao beans from elsewhere in order to make their own chocolate products.
On the other hand, Malagos Chocolate is proud to be one of the very few “tree to bar” companies that grows the trees, harvests the beans, and makes them into chocolate all in the same area. The chocolates are pure and all natural, with no gluten, dairy, nuts, preservatives, artificial coloring, and are non-GMO too. If you look at the back of a Malagos chocolate bar, you’ll read only four ingredients listed on the label: pure cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, a bit of cane sugar, and soy lecithin as binder. But if you look at the ingredients list of the usual imported chocolates, you’ll find at least 12 to 13 ingredients, most of them containing palm oil instead of cocoa butter, and cocoa powder instead of pure cocoa liquor.
So when you wonder why a Malagos Chocolate bar is expensive, Rex explains, “Your favorite ‘chocolates’? These are actually candy bars, not chocolate bars. In the industry, a lot of grinders in Indonesia, they grind cacao beans for the cocoa butter, which they use to make into lipstick, makeup, beauty products. The byproduct, which is the cocoa powder, ’yun ang ginagawa nilang chocolate. Lagyan mo ng asukal, gatas, put cheap fat like palm oil, mold it, and then they call it chocolate. That’s why it’s cheap. Real chocolate should have cocoa butter, and not all of those things.”
The quality and superiority of Malagos Chocolate is seen, of course, in the product itself. In fact, Malagos currently boasts 15 international awards from fine chocolate competitions in different categories, proving that Philippine cacao and chocolate can compete side-by-side with more established international brands.
Their very first prestigious award came in 2015 from the International Chocolate Awards in Germany. The Malagos 65% Dark Chocolate won the silver award in the dark drinking chocolate category. The year before, when they first submitted their chocolate to the competition, they were told that their chocolate was badly tempered and not fine enough. “We send entries primarily to get feedback from the judges kasi ’yun ’yung pinaka importante, the feedback, good or bad. That’s how we improve our product. ’Yung bonus, nananalo.”
Perhaps their most memorable award came in 2017 when Cocoa Excellence Programme in France recognized their fine-flavor Trinitario cacao beans as one of the Best 50 In The World. Sitting with the biggest cacao-producing countries is the single Filipino farm that has received the recognition—Puentespina Farms.
“It’s the bean, the raw material that was given the award. You cannot make a good chocolate if you don’t start with a good ingredient,” Rex says.
It is truly amazing that in just six years, Malagos Chocolate has brought recognition to the efforts of Filipino farmers and Filipino talent in the chocolate industry. Malagos Chocolate provides livelihood to more than 100 farmers in the area, since cacao farming is a cooperative industry and cannot be pulled off by only one huge corporate plantation. The goal for Malagos Chocolate is to entice more Filipinos and foreigners to patronize their products, thus growing the cacao farming industry, and benefitting even more farmers in the country.
“The results are not overnight, it’s going to be a long process. But as long as we concentrate our efforts in growing fine-flavor chocolates, I’m sure we’ll have a chance to stand side by side with others in the world because we have uniquely flavored chocolates, we have good genetic material,” Rex says.
“The government is very supportive of the industry now and cacao is one of their top 10 high-value crops. We’re paving the way for putting Philippines in the chocolate map of the world.”
Malagos Chocolate can be ordered online via The Gift Farm. It is also available in select baking supply stores, specialty shops, and supermarkets around the country. For more information about Malagos Chocolate, visit their website malagoschocolate.com.
Photos by Marie Francia